Living Lab Northern Germany (Norddeutsches Reallabor)
What challenges did you face during the process of obtaining public funding for your project?
The Living Lab Northern Germany is a continuation of past successfully integrated, cross-sectoral projects in the Northern German States, covering topics of the new hydrogen economy and transition of the energy in a wider sense. Looking to complete the preceding project "NEW 4.0" ("Norddeutsche Energiewende"), the project promoters sought to take the next step – coupling more sectors, covering more elements of the hydrogen value chain, increasing the scale and impact of technology deployments and adding more stakeholders. On-grid production of green hydrogen is at the center of the project (consuming among others excess electricity from renewables and thus having a positive impact on electricity grids); the hydrogen then serves off-takers in various applications in industry, mobility and energy. Taking this next step posed challenges in many ways – among others in terms of managing an ever larger and more diverse group of project partners and securing enough public funding to realize the project's full ambition.
What specific measures did you take to overcome these challenges?
To address its funding needs, the project aims to secure support from three different Federal Ministries (Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure, Federal Ministry for the Environment) within one integrated Hydrogen Valley. By the end of 2020 the evaluation process for most project components is in its final stage and the consortium expects to be able to start with the implementation in April 2021. This will mark a great achievement in itself – made possible thanks to a pro-active and collaborative dialogue with all three ministries, a tailor-made project concept that addressed the different funding priorities (each Ministry's funding is planned to cover specific parts of the Valley, e.g. green hydrogen for industrial consumption in a refinery, green hydrogen for mobility applications). We also succeeded in progressively adding more and more political support for our project (first at regional then at federal level) which helped us approach additional sources – we were referred from one Ministry to another rather than having to look for funding all by ourselves.
Since the Living Lab Northern Germany is a subsequent project of the NEW 4.0, we were luckily able to bring along many project partners and stakeholders (more than 50 in total). This allowed for beneficial synergy effects from the very beginning, such as a highly pluralistic project consortium, strong links into regional authorities (e.g. State Governments), the rapid establishment of governance structures, and, most importantly, a strong foundation of trust among all involved parties.
What learnings can other projects take away from your experience?
Regarding public funding, our project shows that it's worthwhile taking a broad and inclusive perspective on potential funding sources. It pays off to look at different ministries, agencies, programs, etc., analyze their policy agendas and funding priorities – and ultimately maintain enough flexibility to shape a hydrogen valley project in a way that secures broad political buy-in. Although our project is planned to be mainly funded from different ministries on the national level, it remained critically important to include policy makers on the regional and local level as well. This is why we also have two pilot projects under our initiative that are funded on federal state level. Often, a different relationship can emerge given different political compositions as well as varying perspectives on the practicality of a project. Both national and regional policy makers can support a project in finding its alignment for the strategic direction.
In terms of stakeholder management and partnership building, a key learning from our project concerns the efficacy of governance mechanisms and the building of mutual trust in a project with a highly pluralistic project consortium, i.e. representation of different regions and business segments along the value chain. We implemented a set of working groups covering different project elements at the working level and agreed on a fit-for-purpose top-level governance body. In our case, the latter is the project's "Steering Board" comprising six members who are both representative of the project partners (covering all three States as well as the full horizontal and vertical value chain) and who are each strong personal project advocates with extensive personal networks. Establishing such a governance model requires willingness from all partners involved, significant upfront investment from the project coordinators and open communication.